Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

I Don’t Look Like My Parents

Juvenile chipping sparrow (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

8 July 2021

Summer is a challenging time to identify birds when fledglings look quite different from adults. Here are seven species whose babies can honestly say, “I don’t look like my parents.”

American robin adults (left) have plain rust-colored breasts. Juveniles (right) have spotted breasts.

American robin: adult and fledgling (photos by Steve Gosser and Charity Kheshgi)

The differences between juvenile and adult downy woodpeckers are subtle. Juveniles (left) have a faint red patch on top of the head while adult males (right) have a vibrant splash of red on the back of the head. (Don’t be fooled by the red flower behind the male in this photo.)

Juvenile downy woodpecker (left) being fed by father (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Red-bellied woodpecker juveniles (middle photo) are very plain with no red on their heads. Adult males (left) are red from bill to nape while adult females (right) have red napes, pale foreheads, and a spot of red at the bill.

Red-bellied woodpeckers: adult male, juvenile, adult female (photos by Marcy Cunkelman and Cris Hamilton)

In breeding plumage adult European starlings (left) are iridescent glossy black while fledglings are dull brown (right). Check out the shape of the fledgling’s beak and how he opens it. He has that in common with his parents.

Adult and juvenile European starlings (photos by Chuck Tague and Charity Kheshgi)

Juvenile northern cardinals (dark bird on branch) resemble their mothers but the juveniles have dark beaks. Their mothers (at right) have orange beaks.

Northern cardinal: Adult male feeding juvenile, female has orange beak (photos by Bob Kroeger, Cris Hamilton)

Juvenile brown-headed cowbirds never look like their foster parents. These dull brown, chunky birds have short, fat necks and “fat” beaks. The beak is the clue.

Brown-headed cowbird chick begging from song sparrow host (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And finally, young chipping sparrows look so different from their parents that you’d think they’re another species. The juveniles are stripey brown (photo at top) while their parents have plain pale breasts and rusty caps. The best way to identify a fledgling chipping sparrow is to watch who it begs from.

Adult chipping sparrow tries to ignore its begging youngster (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

A Hat Tip for this topic goes to Mary Ann Pike who described it in a comment yesterday.

Did you find any fledglings hard to identify this year? Let me know in a comment.

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman, Steve Gosser, Charity Kheshgi, Cris Hamilton, Bob Kroeger, Wikimedia Commons)

When A Nest Is Too Low

Downtown peregrine fledgling perches on 7th floor deck, 10 June 2021 (photo by Brian Johnston)

11 June 2021

After a peregrine chick makes its first flight it waits for hours in its new location, apparently regrouping. When it flies again it will flap along the cliff and land on a slightly lower ledge, then flap again to another ledge, and so on. Many hours later it figures out how to circle out and fly up.

Lower ledges are very important. In the 24 hours after first flight peregrine fledglings don’t have the upper body strength to make a powerful flap and become airborne. At high peregrine nest sites with open airspace and lots of lower ledges, the chicks rarely land on the ground where they become vulnerable to predators and cars.

In Downtown Pittsburgh the Third Avenue nest site is so low and tucked away that fledglings land on the ground every year. Thankfully, passersby call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 to rescue the downed birds.

Yesterday morning at Third Avenue two peregrine chicks were at the nest opening. One had fledged.

Nearby workmen showed me the fledgling on a railing four stories up, facing a narrow space between buildings with a view of Lawrence Hall across Third Avenue. Flying from this location is no problem for an adult peregrine. The youngster waited for enlightenment.

Downtown peregrine fledgling perched on the railing, 4 floors up, 10 June 2021, 10:30a (photo by Kate St. John)
Closeup of Downtown peregrine fledgling perched on the railing, 10 June 2021, 10:30a (photo by Kate St. John)

At this point any action by humans would have frightened the fledgling and guaranteed his failure. We humans stayed away so he could figure it out with help from his experienced parents, Terzo and Dori.

Eventually the youngster will make a move. My guess is he will land on the ground, be rescued by Point Park Police and the PA Game Commission, and be taken to the rescue porch where he can start over.

You might be asking: Isn’t the Gulf Tower a better place for these birds to nest? Yes but not right now.

On 19 May a transformer blew in the Gulf Tower basement and started a 5-alarm fire with smoke billowing from the roof. The building was condemned by City of Pittsburgh building inspectors last week. Here’s the news.

Life is full of challenges for all of us. This bird will get through it.

If you see a downed peregrine, call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523.

(photos by Brian Johnston and Kate St. John)

Peregrine News Around Town, June 10

Composite photo: Morela at Pitt, 8 June 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

10 June 2021

Peregrine news from the Cathedral of Learning, Downtown Pittsburgh, Westinghouse Bridge and Tarentum Bridge.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

Juvie peregrine coming in for a landing, 8 June 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

After two young peregrines fledged at Pitt on June 4 & 5 there was a long gap until the next bird flew. Two of four were still waiting to fly on 8 June when Jeff Cieslak photographed Morela coming in for a landing on the lightning rod (composite at top) and a juvie puttering around the building. The two early birds were already skilled enough to chase their parents.

Yesterday 9 June at 9am I found chick #3 had fledged and was perched on 15th North (Fifth Ave side) patio edge. At that point the fourth had still not flown.

I plan to check again this morning.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

  • Dori on Lawrence Hall windowsill, 9 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Lori Maggio saw the entire Downtown peregrine family at Third Avenue on Wednesday 9 June at 7am. Dori and Terzo watched from across the street as three chicks called and flapped at the nest opening.

Today she saw only two at the nest opening. Did one fledge?

Meanwhile the Gulf Tower, site of a peregrine nestbox, was condemned this week after a large electrical fire damaged it on 19 May 2021. The damage and condemnation will not affect the Downtown peregrines at all. They have not nested at Gulf Tower since 2017 and show no inclination to go back there.

Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge

Adult female at Westinghouse Bridge, 6 June 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

On 6 June, Dana Nesiti saw both fledglings and the banded mother peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge. As he snapped photographs …

I watched one of the juvies fly head on into one of the pillars, tumble down to the arch below, shake it off and scamper up to the top.

— email from Dana Nesiti, 6 June 2021
  • Peregrines at Westinghouse Bridge, 6 June 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Yesterday morning PennDOT found a juvenile peregrine walking on the Westinghouse Bridge road deck and sidewalk. It eventually walked off the bridge and stood in some weeds where PGC Game Warden Doug Bergman retrieved it. To be on the safe side he took it to HAR Verona for a checkup though it appeared to be in good condition. I wonder if this is the juvenile who banged his head a few days earlier. (We can’t know since they are not banded.)

Allegheny River, Tarentum Bridge:

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Construction started on the Tarentum Bridge this week but will not adversely affect the juvenile peregrines because they fly so well and can leave the bridge if necessary. Only two of the three juveniles have been seen since 26 May. We believe the third died in late May.

In other sad news, I learned yesterday that long time Tarentum peregrine watcher and hummingbird fan Rob Protz died of a heart attack this week (obituary here). I will miss his excellent proofreading skills that kept me on my toes. I’m sure you’ll see more errors in my posts.

(photos by Jeff Cieslak, Lori Maggio, Dana Nesiti and Kate St. John)

Terzo Found At Home Downtown

Terzo Downtown: Banded with heart-shaped cheek, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

9 June 2021

Yesterday Lori Maggio visited Third Avenue for just half an hour and solved two mysteries with a few photos:

  • Who is the banded male peregrine in Downtown Pittsburgh?
  • Did Terzo (Black/Red N/29) find another territory after he left the Cathedral of Learning last February?

Loris photos reveal that the banded male is Terzo and, yes, he’s doing fine raising three chicks with Dori. She wrote:

The male was perched above the nest site ledge on the green beam … I was able to get pictures of his bands while he was scratching his chin when preening. He has black/red bands! …

I don’t have a full picture of the entire N or 29 but if you put the pictures together it is his N/29. I also included several pictures of him … to ID him. From what I remember Terzo had heart shaped cheeks and this male does, too.

— email from Lori Maggio, 8 June 2021

Yesterday Terzo and one of the juveniles were perched at the nest opening.

Terzo above, nestling below, Third Avenue, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

The photos below helped us identify the bands. Terzo is Black/Red N/29. Notice his distinctive heart-shaped cheek.

  • Terzo at Third Avenue, 8 June 2021 (phoo by Lori Maggio)

Lori also took photos of a juvenile peregrine who hadn’t flown yet. Art McMorris remarked that this youngster is at least 40 days old and ready to fly at any time. This morning at 7am Lori saw all three chicks at the nest opening, raring to go.

  • Juvenile peregrine at Third Avenue nest, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

And in case you’re wondering, Terzo and Dori have known each other — or about each other — for quite a while. Last year Dori stopped by the Cathedral of Learning during the revolving door of Morela, Terzo, Ecco. Here she is at the Pitt nest on 15 March 2020. A month later she laid eggs at Third Avenue and nested successfully with a new mate. I wonder who.

Dori at Cathedral of Learning, 15 March 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

If you want to see a peregrine family ready to fledge, stop by Third Avenue in the days ahead. Say hello to Terzo while you’re there.

p.s. Meanwhile at Pitt yesterday at 8:30am we were still at 2 fledged + 2 chicks waiting to go. If all goes to plan I will visit both sites today.

(photos by Lori Maggio and from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

They’ve Flown The Coop

Pitt peregrine fledgling is unimpressed by an angry blue jay, 5 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

7 June 2021

We’ve had an exciting few days at Schenley Plaza as we waited for the Pitt peregrine chicks to make their first flight. By Fledge Watch midday yesterday two had flown and two were still waiting to launch. No chicks slept at the nest last night. I believe all four have flown the coop.

7 June 2021, 9:30am: I’M WRONG AGAIN! The last two haven’t fledged and are on the nestrail this morning exercising their wings. They must have found a different place to sleep up there rather than the nestbox. As of 9:30am we’re still at 2 fledged, 2 waiting to fledge.

Empty nest, 7 June 2021, 3am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fledge Watch was great on Friday 4 June with lots of peregrine activity. Saturday had no scheduled Watch but Charity Kheshgi and I could not resist stopping by Schenley Plaza. Embedded below are Charity’s Pitt peregrine photos from Instagram.

Before we begin… You might not realize that the Instagram posts are slideshows. To see all the photos, click on the faint arrow on the right side of each one.

From Fledge Watch on Friday 4 June 2021:

On Saturday 5 June two chicks waited on the nestrail while one extremely active fledgling flew to many different ledges at the Cathedral of Learning. At one point he landed on the netting that covers the ornate corners and had to walk up to launch from the top.

He also visited the globe on Carnegie Museum’s roof and perched on Stephen Foster Theater where he was harassed by a pair of blue jays.

Yesterday at Fledge Watch it was so hot that the peregrines spent the time resting in the shade. There wasn’t much to see.

Today I’ll have to walk around the Cathedral of Learning over and over just to count heads. In a few days it will be impossible to find them.

We will miss them on camera. And yes, eventually all four will fly the coop.

Juvenile peregrine flying at Cathedral of Learning, 5 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Baby Bird Season

Pileated woodpecker feeding nestling, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

6 June 2021

After weeks of excitement during songbird migration, birders are disappointed when it ends. Fortunately migration is followed by baby bird season. Here are two bird families in Frick Park whose young made an appearance at the edge of the nest.

At top and below, a pileated woodpecker family was fun to watch on 31 May as both parents brought food to their begging youngsters.

Two pileated woodpecker nestlings, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Pileated woodpecker feeding nestling, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

On the other side of the park, red-tailed hawk nestlings peeked over the edge of the nest on 22 May, closely guarded by a parent. By now these nestlings will have feathers.

Red-tailed hawk adult and nestling, Frick Park, 22 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Red-tailed hawk nestling, Frick Park, 22 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

It’s baby bird season.

Keep your eyes and ears open for begging birds and please keep your cats indoors to give those babies a chance.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Climbing the Exit Ramp

Two chicks at the nest but unseen by streaming camera, 5 June 2021, 6:10am

5 June 2021

None of the Pitt peregrine chicks fledged on 2 June as predicted. Nor had they fledged by the end of yesterday’s Fledge Watch on 4 June. However, only three chicks slept in the nest last night so one probably flew yesterday afternoon.

UPDATE as of 5 June, 11:00am: By 11am, 3 of the 4 chicks had fledged. One was flying so well he landed on the globe on top of Carnegie Museum.

UPDATE as of 6 June, 5:00am: Yesterday morning we definitely saw 2 fledged chicks but never 3 at the same time. We could not find the 3rd chick so we assumed it had flown. However, two chicks slept at the nest last night while two (fledged) chicks slept elsewhere. I am revising my statement: As of 5 June, 2 of 4 chicks have fledged. Fledge watch today will be HOT. Bring water.

Only 3 chicks slept at the nest last night, 4 June 11:08pm

This morning at 6:10am there were two chicks at the nest but neither was visible on the streaming camera. One chick had climbed the exit ramp under the snapshot camera. The other was perched on the nestbox roof, talons and tip of the tail visible. See photo at top.

The cameras looked very different at that moment (below). Click here to see the snapshots in real time.

Two camera views. Streaming camera cannot see the chicks, 5 June 2021, 06:10am

At least one has flown. Let the games begin!

(Snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fledge Watch Tips: Have They Flown?

Downtown Pittsburgh Fledge Watch, 7 June 2019 (photo by John English)

4 June 2021

How do you know if a peregrine chick has flown? Is that flying peregrine a chick or an adult? Here are some tips on what to look for.

1. Count heads to figure out if any have flown. You’ll have to be onsite to do this.

Count the peregrine chicks perched at the nest via falconcam and at the launch zone. If you count all of them they probably haven’t flown yet. If some are missing …

Peregrine chicks on the nestrail, 2 June 2021 (photo by John English)

If some chicks are missing, walk around to find them using the clues below. Each site is different. At Pitt, walk around the Cathedral of Learning.

2. Look for the parents: What are they looking at?

Morela on the roof, 2 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

When a chick has newly flown one of the parents will perch near it and stare at it. At this early stage of flight the chick is vulnerable. The parent is guarding it.

3. Listen for peregrine “whining.”

When a young peregrine is hungry he whines loudly to get attention. A fledgling away from the nest will call very loudly saying, “I’m over here! Bring food!!” This is not a distress signal. It is “teenage” whining.

4. Watch and listen for upset songbirds warning of a predator.

American robin vocalizing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Songbirds will raise the alarm when they see a young peregrine perched nearby. Most will make alarm calls, a few may dive-bomb to drive it away. American robins are the loudest and most likely to be nearby. Here’s a robin alarm call.

5. Difference in appearance in flight: Juveniles have a pale tip on the tail.

The colors brown (juvenile) vs. gray (adult) are hard to tell at a backlit distance. However in June juveniles have fresh tail feathers while adults do not. Fresh tail feathers in both plumages have pale tips that glow when sunlight shines through them. If you see an obviously pale tail tip, chances are you’re looking at a juvenile.

Here’s a juvenile peregrine at Pitt in 2012.

Juvenile peregrine at Pitt, June 2012 (photo by Peter Bell)

Adults have worn off the tips of their tails by dragging them on the nest gravel for the past four months.

Adult peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

5. Difference in flight behavior: In the first few days of flight juveniles flap a lot and will not stoop. They also land carefully, shown below.

Young peregrine flapping a lot and landing slowly at Pitt, June 2012 (photo by Peter Bell)

As they get better at flying the juveniles flap less and land more confidently. However, it takes some weeks for them to master the stoop. In the first week of flight any peregrine flying like this (below) has to be an adult.

Peregrine falcon, Henry, stooping in Shaker Heights Ohio (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Watch peregrines on your own or join me at Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza today and Sunday, 11:30a-1p.

There’s always something new to learn about peregrines. Let me know what you see.

(photos by John English, Charity Kheshgi, Wikimedia Commons, Peter Bell, Dana Nesiti, Chad+Chris Saladin)

Fledge Watch Update, 3 Jun

Two Pitt peregrine chicks on the nestrail, 2 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

3 June 2021

Pitt peregrine news as of 3 June 2021, 7:30am:

  • We had fun at Fledge Watch yesterday with good looks at the adults and three chicks on the nestrail. Thanks to all who came out to watch.
  • The adults stooped at prey several times. Exciting!
  • At least one adult was always present at the Cathedral of Learning, waiting and watching for the chicks to fledge.
  • Morela no longer has a right shoulder feather that sticks out. Alas, her easy-to-identify marker is gone.
  • None of the peregrine chicks fledged yesterday. I know this because fledglings do not return to the nest; they sleep where they land. All four chicks slept at the nest last night.
  • If the forecast is correct, Friday 4 June Fledge Watch will be canceled because of rain and lightning. If the forecast is wrong I’ll be there.

Fledge Watch 2 June 2021 in photos.

Morela watches from the roof, 2 June 2021 (photo by John English)
Ecco delivers lunch; two chicks get excited, 2 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Ecco watches from a merlon, left of the nestrail, 2 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
A chick looks upside down as his sibling flap-walks, 2 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

From our vantage point at the tent, the rooftop equipment nearly obscured Morela on the lightning rod. Can you see her?

Adult on the lightning rod, almost obscured from this angle (photo by John English)

We moved to the lawn for a better look. Then I got talking … (That’s me on the far left.)

Last night all four chicks slept in the nestbox …

… and were raring to go this morning!

Raring to go on Thursday morning, 3 June 2021 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The last one perches near the exit ramp. It won’t be long now.

Last chick at the nest, 3 June 2021, 7:49am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Stop by Schenley Plaza between the raindrops to watch the peregrines. Keep looking up!

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and John English)

Someone Will Probably Fledge Today

Three peregrine chicks on the nestrail, 1 June 2021, 4:05pm (photo by Kate St. John)

2 June 2021

As of yesterday afternoon, three of the four Pitt peregrine chicks had walked off camera. At 4pm I counted heads from Schenley Plaza using my scope and cellphone (viewing live snapshots of the nest). 3 on the nestrail + 1 in the nest = no one was in the gully under the nest, and no one had flown.

Later they flap-walked along the railing. Here’s one in the middle.

Morela watched from the lightning rod.

Morela on the lightning rod, watching the chicks from above, 1 June 2021, 5pm (photo by Kate St. John)

How do I know it’s Morela? For the past week or two she’s had a feather sticking out on her right shoulder. It may have been dinged in an aerial battle similar to E2’s wing gap in May 2012. Morela will eventually molt out the bent feather but in the meantime it’ll be easy to identify her at Fledge Watch.

When you come to Schenley Plaza to see the peregrine chicks, here’s where to look at the Cathedral of Learning.

  • The tall pole on top of the building is a lightning rod with four triangular antennas. If there’s a dot on one of the antennas it’s a peregrine.
  • The nestrail is the low wall with 5 cutouts. Chicks flap-walk on top of the nestrail and may flatten themselves to nap (then they’re hard to see). Look on top of the nestrail and inside the cutouts for peregrine chicks.
South face of Cathedral of Learning, Forbes Avenue side (photo by Kate St. John)

What happens next?

  • There’s usually a two day gap between first chick on the nestrail (31 May) and first flight. That means first flight could be today, 2 June.
  • The nestrail chicks go back and forth to the nest at will. Last evening their parents fed them at the nest and all four slept there last night.
  • The chicks will return to the nest as long as their parents deliver food to it. Nest food deliveries will cease after all four have flown.

Don’t forget Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza, June 2,4,6, 11:30a-1p. Someone will probably fledge today.

(photos by Kate St. John and from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)